THE BIG BREAK came six years ago in the back-room service bar at Apana, Georgetown's Indian restaurant, while Bobby De Laurentis was balancing a waiter's tray filled with various appetizers and chutneys on his right hand and cradling a telephone receiver in his left, listening to Tony Bill, the man who was producing the film "Hearts of the West" at the time (later he would direct "My Bodyguard"), tell him that his services as a screenwriter were desired in Hollywood, where you're terrific if you're even good.
You have to understand that De Laurentis was good as a waiter, maybe even terrific. He had all the credentials: an A.B. in English, class of '68, from Georgetown, which seems to turn out more waiters and bartenders than the Cornell School of Hotel and Restaurant Management; and a stint as a bartender at the legendary Whiskey A Go Go, where girls used to dance in cages right on M Street, next to the old CIA station, before Georgetown was turned into one big shopping mall.
But . . . screenwriting? He had dreamed about it in college, just as he had fantasized about writing The Great American Novel. He had written one script, "The Big Picture," and mailed it to Tony Bill in a manila envelope with no cover letter. He was flat broke, living in his sister's apartment, and lugging trays of food for an Indian restaurant just to make enough money to fly super-economy to visit a friend on the West Coast. Oh, he knew there were deals and big wheels and spiels out there in Lala Land--"the only place," Pauline Kael wrote in The New Yorker, "where you can die of encouragement." But these are not the things that come to prematurely balding, ever-smiling Italian kids from Atlantic City.
Then, lo and behold, the phone rings at Apana, and Bobby De Laurentis is flying first-class to HOLLYWOOD . . .
. . . And right now, six years and five deals and a happy marriage later, he is sitting at the bar in Le Grill, which used to be the Whiskey by way of a decade's limbo as the Publick House and then Wall's Grill, and he is flanked by Tim Matheson, who played the clever little preppy Otter in "Animal House" and the fellow who joined the mile-high club in "1941" and--to get to the whole point of this story--the lead in Bobby De Laurentis' first film, "A Little Sex," which he wrote and produced, and which opened last Friday at 750 theaters, including one near you.
Let's join the boys at the bar, and eavesdrop on their conversation:
BD (in jest): Well, this movie really is my life story.
TM (staring in bewilderment at his drink, which the bartender claims is a margarita): Is this where you germinated the movie?
BD: The seeds were germinated here. (He takes a sip of red wine.) Or I germinated the seeds here. Ahhh, there used to be this little blond girl up in the cage named Jeanie Couch . . . I was saying just the other night that somebody could make a fortune opening a bar today with girls up in cages.
TM (also in jest): Yeah, just handcuff them to the cages and dress them up like Nancy Allen in any Brian DePalma film. Have you ever met Dino De Laurentiis? Everybody must think you're his son.
BD: That's always the first question. He has two "i"s in his name. In fact, my company is called One Eye Productions. I met him once. I was asked to discuss writing a sequel to "King Kong." They had $10 million tied up in the monkey. He shook my hand and didn't even acknowledge the similarity, as if my name was Schwartz. I had this idea about a 17-year-old kid who worked in a bar, just like this one. Oh, the things that used to go on in the office here. (He points up a flight of steps, which used to lead to the den of iniquity.) The kid kept seeing a huge monkey. Nobody would believe him, until the end of the movie. But the audience knew that it was for real.
TM: I bet they loved that. Any other great ideas?
BD: I almost got a project made about a kid in the Depression who invented the drive-in movie theater. That was called "The Big Picture." My Big Break. And then there was one about a chess player, called "Black Tie" . . .
TM (interrupting): Oh, that was the Bobby Fischer film. They pay you to write this stuff?!
BD: Actually, a lot of money. Not as much as I had to pay you. I got $150,000 for my first screenplay, and then two more $50,000 options.
TM: And you'd rather be a waiter, right?
BD: Not exactly. When I was working around Georgetown, the Immigration Service was always raiding kitchens to look for illegal immigrants. I mean, when you said green card then, you meant American Express. I can't tell you how many serious poker games those INS guys broke up.
TM: So now you're happy, living the fat life in El-Lay?
BD: Couldn't stand it. We live in New York now. Do you know what it's like to go into a home and they have NO BOOKS? You know what they're calling "Personal Best" in Hollywood? Chariots of Desire.
TM: You have anything else you want to say about this film we made?
BD: I'm a very nice guy. I have an 11-month-old daughter. Children are very expensive. This has nothing to do with art. I need the money. Please go see "A Little Sex."